Sunday, May 31, 2009
I was just reading my previous post in which I wrote about Tom Tancredo calling Sonia Sotomayor "a brown woman" who thinks she's better than "white men" like himself, and I commented that Sotomayor's skin is actually whiter than Tancredo's. This got me to thinking...
I think it is so absurd, this system we have set up describe people by color. Whites and blacks are of course white and black, even though neither are white nor black.
Latinos and Asians? Brown and yellow.
Asians, yellow? Last week I met a Korean with skin as white as milk, and last night, I met a Filipino with skin and brown as a caffe latte.
Latinos, brown? First off, Latino isn't even a race. It is simply the Spanish (and Portuguese and Italian) word for "Latin", and while the peoples of Latin America speak languages derived from Latin, and are a part of a culture which is highly influenced by Latin Europe, a great many of them have no Latin ancestry at all (especially when you consider that Latin comes from the Italian peninsula).
Latin America is a place with people of many different races... Amerindian (Aztec, Maya, Inca, etc.), African, European, Asian... some people are of 100% Amerindian ancestry, and even speak the native language at home and in the towns where they live. Some are of 100% African ancestry, some are of 100% European ancestry... and so many are a mix of some or all of the above, which is where the Spanish words "mestizo" (mixed Amerindian and European) and "mulato" (mixed African and European) come in.
To call Latinos "brown" is insulting to me, NOT because there is anything wrong with being brown, but because to say that Latinos (or Hispanics or whatever euphemism you prefer) are all one color, is to ignore the racial and ethnic diversity of Latin America. It's like saying that everybody in the USA is white, just because they speak English and are raised in an Anglo society and culture.
I am not brown. And here's how I know:
When I was a child, I used to love to draw pictures of myself with crayons. I remember one day, maybe I was 6 or 7-years-old, I was trying to find the right color to color in my skin in a drawing of me. The paper was white, and so it was too light to be my skin, and had to be colored in. I tried the color brown, it was too dark. I kept testing colors on the paper and then putting my arm next to it, to see if the color matched the skin of my arm.
Finally, I found the closest color to my skin tone: "Peach".
I'M PEACH, I thought.
And from that day on, I always colored my skin in with the peach crayon. If I was at school, and the box of crayons I was using didn't have a peach crayon, I would walk around and ask the other children if I could use their Peach.
So this has given me some inspiration.
People always ask me where I'm from. I always say, "Originally from the suburbs of Houston, Texas, although I was born in Newark, New Jersey." I say this, because the look on their face afterwards always betrays their disappointment at my answer. What they reeeally want to know is what my ethnic background is.
They want to know this, because there is a weird curiosity in this country of trying to discern what is the ethic background of an otherwise "white" person who has black hair, brown eyes and dark skin, as if having dark features throws a boomerang into the Caucasian race.
After all, this question is rarely asked of an American with blond hair, blue eyes and fair skin. It's not as if blond Americans are always asked, "Where are you from? Because I can't tell if you're Dutch or Swedish or German or Estonian or Polish..."
Well, I'm always asked this "where are you from" question, and after I throw them for a loop by telling them where I was raised, I often say, "Oh, you want to know why I have dark hair and skin! Okay. It's because my family is from Cuba."
Then they usually say, "Ooooh! Because I wondering. I didn't know if you were Hispanic or Italian or Greek or even Middle Eastern..."
(Did you give a shit where he/she "was from" the last time you saw a blond?)
Sometimes, I am even asked this: "What are you?"
What AM I?
And this is where my inspiration comes in; the inspiration that I draw from the simple wisdom that I had as a child.
From now on, the next time somebody asks what I am, I'm going to proudly say,